GANDHI IN ACTION network

the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338

E-mail – dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net

 

Sardar Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi

 

Bhagat Singh (28 September 1907 – 23 March 1931) was an Indian nationalist. He is often referred to as Shaheed Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh was born to Kishan Singh and Vidyavati is in Chak No. 105, GB, Banga village, Jaranwala Tehsil in the Layallpur district of the Punjab Province. Now it is situated in Pakistan. He belonged to a patriotic Sikh family, some of whose members had participated in Indian Independence movements, and others had served in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army. Bhagat Singh was influenced by a number of incidents during his childhood which instilled in him a deep sense of patriotism to eventually take up the struggle for India's independence. In 1919, at the age of 12, Bhagat Singh visited the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where non-violent people gathered at a public meeting were fired upon without warning, killing hundreds.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Bhagat Singh and others who are under sentence to death. How can there be peace, I am asked, when a sentence of death is hanging over the heads of these patriots? It is unfortunate that the young men distributing these pamphlets should not understand such a simple thing. They ought to understand that we have entered into no peace treaty. It is a provisional, temporary settlement we have arrived at. I beseech the young men not to bid goodbye to common sense, to cool courage, to patience, to reason. I have claimed to be a young man of 62. But even if I were to be labelled as a dilapidated old fogey, I have a right to appeal to your good sense. I do not want you to take for granted all that old men say to you, but I 1 at this stage a ‘red’ leaflet full of posers addressed to Gandhi was handed to him.

Want you to consider it and weigh it, and if you find that we ‘old’ men have bungled, that we have been guilty of weakness get us to abdicate, and assume the reins yourselves. But that presupposes cool courage and solid common sense. But let me tell you why Bhagat Singh and the rest have not been released. Maybe, if you had been negotiating you might have secured better terms from the Viceroy, but we the Working Committee would secure no more than what we have. I may tell you that throughout the negotiations I was not acting on my own, I was backed by the whole Working Committee. We brought all the pressure we could to bear on our negotiations and satisfied ourselves with what in justice we could have under the provisional settlement. We could not as negotiators of the provisional truce forget our pledge of truth and non-violence, forget the bounds of justice.

But it is still open to us to secure the release of all you have named and that can be done if you will implement the settlement. Let ‘Young India’ stand by the settlement and fulfill all its conditions, and if, God willing, Bhagat Singh and others are alive when we have arrived at the proper stage, they would not only be saved from the gallows but released. But I will address to ‘Young India’ a word of warning. These things are sooner asked for than obtained. You want to secure the freedom of those condemned of violence. There is nothing wrong about it. My creed of non-violence does not favour the punishment of thieves and dacoits and even murderers. I cannot in all conscience agree to anyone being sent to the gallows, much less a brave man like Bhagat Singh. But I tell you, even you could not save them unless you fulfill the conditions of the settlement. You cannot do so by violent means. If you pin your faith to violence, take it from me that you will not only not secure Bhagat Singh’s release but will have to sacrifice thousands of Bhagat Singh. I was not prepared to do so, and hence I preferred the way of peace, of non-violence. The way that you have adopted has been on trial for centuries and history records numerous instances of the truth that those who use the sword shall perish by the sword. You will not stop at using the violent weapon against your rulers, you will use it against your brothers and sisters too, and others of your way of thinking will use it against you.”1

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “If Bhagat Singh is hanged, as it now seems almost certain, it may have highly unfavorable repercussions upon the younger element in the Congress who may attempt to split the Congress.  Yes, but it is a very distant hope.”2

Mahatma Gandhi told, “Bhagat Singh and his companions have been executed and have become martyrs. Their death seems to have been a personal loss to many. I join in the tributes paid to the memory of these young men. And yet I must warn the Youth of the country against following their Government of India and the local Government attached the greatest importance and that local Governments were alive to the necessity of giving such relief as the circumstances required.” example. We should not utilize our energy, our spirit of sacrifice, our labours and our indomitable courage in the way they have utilized theirs. This country must not be liberated through bloodshed. About the Government I cannot help feeling that it has missed a golden opportunity, to win over the rebels to its side. At least from the point of view of the settlement, it was its duty to postpone indefinitely the carrying out of the death sentence. The Government has by its own act dealt a severe blow to the settlement and has shown its capacity to disregard public opinion once again and to exhibit the great brute strength it possesses. The reliance on violence is perhaps ominous and it suggests that in spite of high-sounding and pious proclamations, it does not want to part with power. But the people’s duty is clear. The Congress must not swerve from the path it has chalked out for itself. According to my view, notwithstanding the gravest provocation the Congress should endorse the settlement and test its capacity to secure the result hoped for. We must not put ourselves in the wrong by getting angry. We must realize that commutation of the sentences was not a part of the truce. We may accuse the Government of violence but we cannot accuse it of breach of the settlement. It is my conviction that the grave blunder committed by the Government has increased our power to win freedom and Bhagat Singh and his comrades have embraced death therefore. Let us not throw away this opportunity by doing anything in anger. It is beyond dispute that there will be a general strike and we cannot honour the deceased patriots better than by taking out absolutely peaceful and dignified processions.”3

Mahatma Gandhi said, “I failed in my efforts to bring about the commutation of the death sentences on Bhagat Singh and his friends, and that is why the young men vented their wrath against me.”4

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “But there was no cause for apprehension. The young men were simply shouting, “Gandhi go back”, “Down with Gandhism”. They had a right to do so inasmuch as they thought that I had not done everything in my power to save Bhagat Singh, or that being a believer in ahimsa, I had simply neglected Bhagat Singh and his comrades. But they had no intention to molest me or for the matter of that anyone else. They allowed everyone to pass, and then a young man handed to me flowers made of black cloth. They might have thrown them on me and insulted me, but they had no such intention. Flowers are given me everywhere, I am usually indifferent about them, even when they are received from dear sisters and sometimes even chide them for wasting the flowers on me. But these I seized and have treasured them. I shall also tell you what I want to do with them. If the young men come and tell me that they should not have been angry and that their suspicions about me were groundless and that therefore they want the flowers returned to them, I shall gladly give them back. But if they do not do so, they will be sent to the Ashram to be preserved as heirlooms.”5

Mahatma Gandhi told, “Brave Bhagat Singh and his two associates have been hanged. Many attempts were made to save their lives and even some hopes were entertained, but all was in vain. Bhagat Singh did not wish to live. He refused to apologize; declined to file an appeal. If at all he would agree to live, he would do so for the sake of others; if at all he would agree to it, it would be in order that his death might not provoke anyone to indiscriminate murder. Bhagat Singh was not a devotee of non-violence, but he did not subscribe to the religion of violence; he was prepared to commit murder out of a sense of helplessness. His last letter was as follows: “I have been arrested while waging a war. For me there can be no gallows. Put me into the mouth of cannon and blow me off.” These heroes had conquered the fear of death. Let us bow to them a thousand times for their heroism.

But we should not imitate their act. I am not prepared to believe that the country has benefited by their action. I can see only the harm that has been done. We could have won swaraj long ago if that line of action had not been pursued and we could have waged a purely nonviolent struggle. There may well by two opinions on this conjecture of mine. However, no one can deny the fact that if the practice of seeking justice through murders is established amongst us, we shall start murdering one another for what we believe to be justice. In a land of crores of destitute and crippled persons, this will be a terrifying situation. These poor people are bound to become victims of our atrocities. It is desirable that everyone should consider the consequences of this. Further, we want a swaraj which is theirs and for them. By making a dharma of violence, we shall be reaping the fruit of our own actions.

Hence, though we praise the courage of these brave men, we should never countenance their activities. By hanging these men, the Government has demonstrated its own brute nature; it has provided fresh proof of its arrogance resulting from its power by ignoring public opinion. From this hanging it may be concluded that it is not the intention of the Government to part with any real power to the people. The Government certainly had the right to hang these men. However, there are some rights which do credit to those who possess them only if they are enjoyed in name only. If a person exercises all his rights on all occasions, in the end they are destroyed. On this occasion, the Government would have brought credit to itself if it had not exercised its rights and this would have been highly useful in maintaining peace.

However, it is obvious that the Government has not to date developed such discretion. It has given a clear reason for the public to get enraged. If the latter shows anger, it will lose the game which it is about to win. Some officials may even hope that the public will give vent to its anger. Whether they do so or not, ours is a straightforward path. While negotiating the settlement, Bhagat Singh’s hanging was weighing upon us. We had hoped that the Government would be cautious enough to pardon Bhagat Singh and his associates to the extent of remitting the sentence of hanging. We should not break the pledge we have taken just because our hopes have not been fulfilled, but should bear this blow which has fallen upon us and honour our pledge. By doing so under even such trying circumstances, our strength to get what we desire will increase rather than decrease, while, if we break our pledge or violate the truce, we shall suffer loss of vigour, loss of strength and it will add to our present difficulties in reaching our objective. Hence our dharma is to swallow our anger, abide by the settlement and carry out our duty.”6

Bhagat Singh was a brilliant student during his study. But he did not like slavery. In 1923, Bhagat Singh joined the National College in Lahore, where he not only excelled in academics but also in extra-curricular activities. He was a participant of the dramatics society in the college. So he left the college and took participate in Independent movement of India. But he did not like the struggle path of Mahatma Gandhi. He wanted fight to English face to face. 

Mahatma Gandhi said, “This Congress, while dissociating itself from and disapproving of political violence in any shape or form, places on record its admiration of the bravery and sacrifice of the late Sardar Bhagat Singh and his comrades sits. Sukhdev and Rajguru, and mourns with the bereaved families the loss of these lives. The Congress is of opinion that this triple execution is an act of wanton vengeance and is a deliberate flouting of the unanimous demand of the nation for commutation. This Congress is further of opinion that Government have lost the golden opportunity of promoting goodwill between the two nations, admittedly held to be essential at this juncture, and of winning over to the method of peace the party which, being driven to despair, resorts to political violence.

They accuse you for the niggardly way in which the resolution had been worded by you. These people are trying to impress upon the minds of the young men that you really had no sincere sympathy for those unfortunate men and that you gave your support to the resolution and expressed your admiration for Bhagat Singh and his comrades only being prevailed upon by the Navajuvanwallas, whose strong agitation you could not resist, and you wanted to placate Pandit Jawaharlal.  They question your integrity and sincerity and try to belittle you and your cause by surreptitiously propagating an idea in Bengal that while you gave your active support to the resolution about Bhagat Singh at Karachi you severely criticized the late Deshbandhu Das for his responsibility in carrying out an exactly similar resolution at Faridpur Conference praising Gopinath Saha1 who lost his life on the gallows under exactly similar circumstances; and in this they say you are not immune from provincial bias. They are taking every opportunity to undermine your influence in Bengal by appealing to the sentiment of local patriotism. They say that many Bengal youths sacrificed their lives even within this very year for the same cause for which Bhagat Singh and his comrades died. Among those who thus died in Bengal there were Benoy Bose and his comrade, there were the Chittagong raiders the twenty-one lads, who died fighting bravely against the British troops on the Jalallabad Hills whose deeds were much more courageous and romantic than you would imagine, but how strange you did not find romance there: not a word of sympathy passed from your lips! The insidious appeal made to their sentiment of local patriotism easily estranges them from you and your path of non-violence.

I have already expressed my doubts as to the propriety of my having drafted and sponsored the Bhagat Singh resolution not because it was wrong in principle but for the misinterpretation it has lent itself to. But the reader must know that it was neither the fear of the Navajuvans nor my love for Pandit Jawaharlal that prompted me to initiate the resolution. Not that I should be ashamed of yielding to Navajuvans or placating Jawaharlal. I should be foolish if I did not yield to Navajuvans, if yielding advanced the interest of the country and involved no sacrifice of principle. And I should go a very long way to please Jawaharlal and retain his affection which I have the privilege of possessing in abundance. But there was no prompting required in this case. I had interested myself in the movement for the commutation of the death sentence on Bhagat Singh and his comrades. I had put my whole being into the task. I had therefore to study the life of the principal actor in the tragedy. I had to come in contact with his devoted father and those who were attached to Bhagat Singh not for his deed but for his character. I was thus drawn to the resolution in the natural course. I am too sensitive not to be moved by circumstances demanding sympathy.

Therefore had I found myself impelled to interest myself in any of the Bengali youths and had fancied myself in possession of influence which I could exercise in their behalf, I should have with equal zest plunged myself into their case. I regard myself as incapable of having any provincial bias. Bengal is as dear to me as the Punjab. And I owe a special debt to Bengal for the inspiration it gave me in my youth. It is true that Deshbandhu and I differed as to the emphasis in the matter of Gopinath Saha resolution. I do not know that my resolution1 on Gopinath Saha differed in substance from the Karachi Resolution. But the reader should know that whatever our differences, Deshbandhu and I always remained friends. Indeed towards the end of his all too short life, we came much nearer each other even in our ideals and methods of working towards them. I should therefore be sorry to discover that there was any secret propaganda against me in Bengal. I have many precious co-workers in Bengal. I want the number to grow. I know the value of the cooperation of the youth of Bengal. I need it for their sakes, for the sake of the country they love so well, but sometimes, alas, blindly.

They must not by their unwarranted prejudice deny themselves the service of a true friend. If I have any influence over the youth of the country, it is a treasure I want to use for gaining the freedom of the motherland. I am therefore glad that my correspondent has given me the opportunity of stating my position. But whether I retain my hold on the youth of Bengal or any other province or I do not, I must proclaim my creed from the house-top. Freedom of India’s starving millions is attainable only through Truth and Ahimsa.”7

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The Bhagat Singh worship has done and is doing incalculable harm to the country. Bhagat Singh’s character about which I had heard so much from reliable sources, the intimate connection I had with the attempts that were being made to secure commutation of the death sentence carried me away and identified me with the cautious and balanced resolution passed at Karachi.2 I regret to observe that the caution has been thrown to the winds. The deed itself is being worshipped as if it was worthy of emulation. The result is goondaism and degradation wherever this mad worship is being performed.

The Congress is a power in the land, but I warn Congressmen that it will soon lose all its charm if they betray their trust and encourage the Bhagat Singh cult whether in thought, word or deed. If the majority does not believe in the Congress policy of non-violence and truth, let them have the first article altered. Let us understand the distinction between policy and creed. A policy may be changed, a creed cannot. But either is as good as the other whilst it is held. Those therefore who hold non-violence only as a policy may not, without exposing themselves to the charge of dishonorable conduct, use the Congress membership as a cover for violence. I cannot. get rid of the conviction, that the greatest obstacle to our progress towards swaraj is our want of faith in our policy. Let this fortunate failure of attempted assassination open our eyes.”8

Mahatma Gandhi said, “On former occasions when we condemned such actions we also praised the spirit of sacrifice among the young men. But we praised it so much that I think we reached the limit when we passed the resolution at Karachi about Bhagat Singh and his comrades. At that time I felt that for one whose sacrifice was so great and whose character was represented to me to have been spotless we should do all that we can to save him from the gallows and even if we did not succeed in it we should pass the resolution we passed. I did so in the belief that it would have sobering effect on the youths but I failed in that attempt. I am not unaware of the increased strength of the youths but it is being misused. I did not get the least success in that attempt. On the contrary it was exploited very badly and I am sorry for it.”9 The famous leader of Punjab was beaten by police very brutally. Sardar Bhagat Singh was very worried. He made some plan for taking revenge. He was involved in the assassination of British police officer John Saunders. He eluded efforts by the police to capture him. With Batukeshwar Dutt, he undertook a successful effort to throw two bombs and leaflets inside the Central Legislative Assembly While shouting slogans of Inklab Zindabad. Subsequently they volunteered to surrender and be arrested. Held on this charge, he gained widespread national support when he underwent a 116 day fast in jail. Mahatma Gandhi did lot. But he did not go outside of his principal of Satya and Ahimsa. So he did not involve in Sardar Bhagat Singh matter directly.

 

 

References:

 

  1. SPEECH AT PUBLIC MEETING, DELHI; March 7, 1931
  2. INTERVIEW TO THE PRESS; March 21, 1931
  3. STATEMENT ON EXECUTION OF BHAGAT SINGH AND COMRADES; March 23, 1931
  4. INTERVIEW TO THE PRES; March 26, 1931
  5. SPEECH AT KARACHI CONGRESS; March 26, 1931
  6. Navajivan, 29-3-1931
  7. RESOLUTION ON BHAGAT SINGH AND COMRADES; March 29, 1931
  8. Young India, 11-6-1931
  9. SPEECH AT A.I.C.C. MEETING, BOMBAY; August 6, 1931

 

 

 

 

 

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